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Growing Up Muslim After Sept. 11

How suspicion and curiosity shaped a Northwestern student's life.

This story is part of a Patch series examining the Muslim experience 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Read other stories in the series .

Like most 9-year-olds, Aatifa Shareef didn’t really understand what was happening when terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

But as the country reeled from the destruction of the World Trade Center, Shareef, then a fifth grader in Columbus, Ohio, began to experience treatment she had never encountered before. 

“This one girl in my class … asked me, ‘Oh, is [Osama Bin Laden] your relative or something?’” said Shareef, who is of Indian descent. “I was so taken aback.”

Muslim at Northwestern

Shareef, 19, is now the co-president of the Muslim-cultural Students Association (McSA) at and is on track to graduate at the end of this school year, though it’s just her third. The psychology major is planning to take a year off before heading to graduate school.

Though Shareef describes the campus as tolerant, Northwestern is not without its lapses. Last year, the Secular Humanists for Inquiry and Free Thought (SHIFT) drew stick figures on the sidewalks around campus and labeled them with the Prophet Muhammad’s name. 

Though Shareef said the figures were condemned by the school, McSA didn't take issue with SHIFTs freedom of speech. Instead, McSA organized a program to teach more about Muhammad and Islamic beliefs that consider the drawing of the prophet as idolatry.

“The point is to explain the life, and explain who the person is, who the prophet is,” she said, “and why drawing stick figures on the ground where people walk is disrespectful.”

The group, which Shareef says stays involved with campus life, held a  barbecue last week on Lake Michigan behind Norris University Center on a chilly, overcast day. Many non-Muslim students, as well as some new freshman, came to talk with group members or hang out with friends. 

Students don’t have to be Muslim to be in the McSA, since one of the group’s goals is awareness.

Post-9/11 profiling

Shareef has had practice answering questions about her faith, which is useful now that people approach her to talk about McSA.

She explained that after 9/11 people began to wonder about Islam out of curiosity. Starting in seventh grade, Shareef was fielding questions about her hijab, the head-covering traditionally worn by Muslim women.

While she was happy to teach people about her religion, she was less thrilled with her post-9/11 treatment at airports.

“There’s no such thing as random screening,” Shareef said. “It’s not random.”

Even if she doesn't trigger the metal detector, Shareef says she typically undergoes extra security checks. Agents will pat down her head.

“As if I can hide something in here,” she said, gesturing to her hijab.

Now, Shareef says she's only surprised when doesn’t have a pat-down or get picked to go through a full-body scanner.

Junior journalism major Heba Hasan said that the looks people give eventually become expected.

“Every minority goes through that,” she said. “You just kind of take it in stride and represent yourself the best way because getting angry isn’t going to solve problems.”

Learning to deal

Back at the barbecue, a volleyball net got hammered into the ground with a softball bat, while a few others passed around a football parallel to a wavy lake. Others munched on chips and drank soda while talking to the new freshman.

Meanwhile, Shareef happily went from group to person to group, chatting.

“Over the years we’ve built a lot of connections and respect within the Northwestern community,” she said. “More than anything, we’ve gotten support.”

Richard Schulte September 29, 2011 at 07:20 PM
"Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 for the crime of apostasy because he allegedly abandoned Islam for Christianity. As a pastor, Iranian clerics believe that Nadarkhani was preaching in order to convert Muslims. Before his last hearing Wednesday, Nadarkhani had been given three previous chances to repent, and all three times he has refused. After his final refusal Wednesday, no verdict has been announced, but many expect that he could be put to death as soon as Friday." http://img.ibtimes.com/www/articles/20110929/222139_iranian-pastor-sentenced-to-death.htm The above is an example of how Muslims treat Christians. And Muslims complain about how they are treated in America?
Deadcatbounce September 30, 2011 at 03:05 AM
http://senseofevents.blogspot.com/2011/09/well-done-president-obama.html
Richard Schulte October 01, 2011 at 05:06 PM
"Press Statement: Hillary Rodham Clinton Secretary of State Washington, DC September 30, 2011 The United States is deeply concerned by reports of the Iranian government’s continued repression of its people. Despite statements from Iran’s Supreme Leader and President claiming support for the rights and freedoms of Iranian citizens and people in the region, the government continues its crackdown on all forms of dissent, belief, and assembly. We are particularly concerned by reports that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is facing execution on charges of apostasy for refusing to recant his faith. This comes amid a harsh onslaught against followers of diverse faiths, including Zoroastrians, Sufis, and Baha’is. Iran’s government continues to arrest journalists and filmmakers. They are restricting access to information by jamming incoming satellite broadcasts and filtering the Internet. The United States stands with the international community and all Iranians against the Iranian government’s hypocritical statements and actions, and we continue to call for a government that respects the human rights and freedom of all those living in Iran." Inquiring minds would like to know what American Muslims think about the above. Many Americans would be interested to know whether American Muslims agree with Secretary of State Clinton or whether American Muslims agree with Iranian government. See the Golden Rule above.
Richard Schulte October 01, 2011 at 05:12 PM
Speaker of the House John Boehner had this to say" "Iran is drawing widespread criticism over reports that an Iranian pastor faces execution for refusing to recant his Christian faith and return to Islam. “Religious freedom is a universal human right,” Boehner said. He said that the prospects that Nadarkhani could be executed “unless he disavows his Christian faith are distressing for people of every country and creed. “While Iran’s government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their faith. This goes beyond the law to an issue of fundamental respect for human dignity,” said Boehner." Do American Muslims agree with the statement that "religious freedom is a fundamental human right" and that this right should apply in Saudi Arabia and Iran?
Richard Schulte October 02, 2011 at 03:59 PM
It's rather disappointing that no one in the American Muslim community left a post stating whether or not they agreed or disagreed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Speaker John Boehner statements above. I believe that Clinton and Boehner speak for most American Christians and Jews. If American Muslims expect religious tolerance here in America, it would make sense that American Muslims would condemn religous intolerance practiced by Mulsims in the Middle East. It appears that American Muslims would like to have it both ways-they want Americans to be tolerant of their religious beliefs, while at the same time condoning and practicing intolerance toward Christian and Jewish faiths. The next time you criticize Americans for their (perceived) slights of the Muslim religion, please remember how Christians and Jews (and other religions) are treated in Iran and Saudi Arabia. What goes around, comes around.

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